Absentees leave Frederick County school board race unchanged so far -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated on Nov. 13, 2012.

Even though more ballots remain to be counted, the results from the highly contested race for the Frederick County Board of Education are unlikely to change, according to election officials.

The addition of another 5,000 absentee ballots to the total number of votes cast has not changed the order in which the top three vote-getters among school board candidates finished on election night, according to figures posted Thursday on the Frederick County Board of Elections website.

With absentee votes factored in, incumbent Kathryn “Katie” Groth, 71, and challengers Joy Schaefer, 45, and Zakir Bengali, 72, remain the clear winners, advancing over candidates Colleen Cusimano, 43, and Tony Chmelik, 45.

The five candidates competed for three seats on the seven-member school board.

The original election results on Tuesday left some possibility for change for Bengali and Cusimano, who finished third and fourth, respectively, with a gap of 2,664 votes.

But with the first batch of absentee ballots counted, that possibility has all but disappeared. With absentee ballots added, Bengali won 43,752 votes, or 17.62 percent, up from his original 42,338 votes.

Cusimano also got additional votes but not enough to surpass Bengali. She moved up from 39,674 to 41,042 votes, or 16.53 percent.

There are still 2,100 provisional and more than 1,200 absentee ballots that remain to be counted, according to Stuart Harvey, director of the Frederick County Board of Elections.

But even with those, the likelihood that Cusimano can garner enough votes to overcome Bengali’s nearly 2,300 vote lead remains slim because provisional ballots traditionally tend to follow the general election trends, according to Harvey.

Cusimano said Monday that she was not surprised by the absentee ballot count.

“The absentees and provisionals have turned out exactly as I would have predicted. They are usually a smaller sampling of the county overall,” Cusimano wrote in an email.

With a large margin of votes separating her from Bengali, Cusimano said she did not expect the absentee ballot count would help her advance.

“My numbers were pretty significantly behind Dr Bengali. Like the school budget — it's math not magic!,” she wrote.

For Cusimano, a 43-year-old information technologies professional and a mother of three who lives in Monrovia, it was her second unsuccessful attempt to be elected to county school board.

For now, Cusimano said she has no plans of running for the board a third time.

“... I would never say never, but I am pretty happy to get back to focusing on my own family and career for now,” she said.

But Cusimano vowed to continue to keep up with the work of the school board and advocate for better financial management and more family involvement within the system.

“I still care deeply about Frederick County schools,” she said. “... I hope that we have board members who take their responsibility seriously and stop trying to shift blame and shift obligations. We have even more grave budget years ahead. We need resources in the classroom, not scattered to the administrative whims.”

On the other side, Bengali said he was pleased with the results. The 72-year-old Adamstown resident said he has a deep respect for all the candidates who ran in the election because they were all motivated by a desire to do the best for county children.

As a board member, Bengali vowed to work for solutions that are not guided by personal politics, but by the best interests of students in the county.

“For me this is not a political position,” he said. “It’s a service.”

Election results will remain unofficial until Friday, when elections officials will count the last remaining batch of ballots.

mraycheva@gazette.net